I don’t believe I’ve ever combined a movie and a book review before. I chose Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd for my periodic indulgence in the classics after seeing a trailer for the upcoming film starring Carey Mulligan, et al. years and years ago–that’s how long since I’d dived into a Hardy novel. I always considered him a better poet than a novelist, found his trudging, depressed souls wandering the moors rather enervating. Once into the book, I found I had been here before, but recalled very little.
The names, after I’ve done some novelizing of my own, I appreciated more, and found some intriguing choices. Bathsheba Everdene; Gabriel Oak; Mr. Boldwood. There was, of course, all the typical Victorian tiptoeing around sex, but a peek behind the curtain showed there was plenty of it. It was bold of Hardy, I surmise, to put a young woman in charge of an entire farm. By skylining her thus, he puts her in a position to be pursued by every bachelor in the neighborhood, which is way short of eligible females. As inexperienced as she is, she does a poor job of handling the situation. Her inexperience is only part of the problem. She’s also a tease, loves the power males’ attraction to her gives her over them. And she uses the power dishonestly. When she herself becomes infatuated with a cad, she’s just as unable to handle the emotion inside her as she was to handle the emotions of her suitors. Complications ensue, and she things end badly for most of those concerned.
A chorus of rustics gathers around the stove at the village pub from time to time to comment on her actions, which provides a bit of distance from the action proper. As for the film–
Like most movies, it lacks the texture and complexity of the novel. How could it not? But they could have done more. It’s unclear at the beginning what she’s doing on the farm, so the fact that her uncle’s death gives her ownership is meaningless. It seems she already owns the place. They don’t show how shabbily Bathsheba actually treats her followers, focusing only on the fact that they are infatuated beyond measure. The crucial scene where Gabriel Oak saves the crops is way diminished in magnitude, so that the villainy of Bathsheba’s husband and the achievement of Gabriel Oak et less emphasis than they should. These flaws would have added almost nothing to the show’s running time, and, with others like them, would have turned it into a far more credible cinematic effort. So, despite some excellent performance, a disappointment.
The book itself gave back more than I had anticipated, so not much disappointment there, but I doubt I’ll be rushing out to buy Return of the Native.